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Why is the Blue Whale Game so attractive to children, to begin with? What is drawing them to it? Let’s find out!
There is so much frenzy on the media and social networking sites around the Blue Whale game. Horrifying videos of attempted suicides and actual ones are doing the rounds on Whatsapp, all attributed to this game.
Blue Whale is a game that offers 50 challenges to the player. Each challenge requires certain form of bizarre, morbid or violent behavior, to be proved with photographic evidence. The final challenge is suicide. Since this is not an app or website, it cannot be blocked or taken away. The game can be played using any means of group communication like email, Whatsapp, Facebook messenger or Skype.
Once a child gets involved with a group playing the Blue Whale game they may find it very hard to quit and leave. The real coup is if we can prevent the child from getting attracted to this and any other such self-harming online games. For most of us, it is hard to imagine what the fun is in cutting oneself, much less jumping to one’s death. Yet it is these challenges that are attracting teens. If we can uncover the underlying unmet needs, and fulfil them in more wholesome or healthy ways, we may keep our children safe during their vulnerable years.
Need for thrill – Remember what it was like to be a kid, zipping illegally on a borrowed motorcycle? Though it varies from child to child but mostly by the time they are about 14-15 years old, kids experience a desire for thrill. They want to take risks. Since they are full of youthful energy, they don’t accurately perceive the risk that this behaviour can badly hurt or even kill them. Traditionally, we expected a lot of work without adult supervision from 14-15 year olds. They were expected to herd cattle, draw water, gather wood, or help adults, all in relatively unknown or dangerous places. Now we won’t even let them light a safety match. We must expose our kids to age-appropriate physically thrilling activities, in controlled environments. For their birthday, take them rock climbing, not to pizza hut.
Need for challenge – We are a land of games and festivals that gave teens a chance to show off bravado –be it thumping ‘dhols’ for hours on end, or standing on top of two dhols to play the tasha; mallkhamb or climbing an oiled pole; making a 5-tiered pyramid of govindas to break a matki or running in front of bulls during jallikattu. From this, we have become a generation of over-protective parents. Kids need physical challenges where they can prove that they dare, especially in front of parents and other adults of their community. If they don’t get it, they will replace it with the much more dangerous challenges offered by online games.
Need for belonging – Psychological research says that the harder it is to enter a group, the greater its perceived value. Kids want to feel like they belong to an elite group. When was the last time your child went volunteering with a passionate group of reformers, met a group of elite athlete teens as they undergo hard training; or met a club of kids solving real-world problems through software, technology, maths or sciences? Show them these coteries and let them vie for their membership.
Need for respect – Just like we demand respect from kids, they desire respect from us. If we typically talk about what they haven’t yet achieved, never taking the time to laud the efforts and interim goals achieved, we are disrespecting them. They will go to great lengths to win our respect. Suicide attempts, unfortunately, have become a way kids think they will receive it. Recently a client of mine narrated her disappointment when her mother (very wisely, in my opinion) told her she has no respect for people who kill themselves. Don’t discuss suicide in excited tones. Make it clear that you do not have any respect for anyone who attempts suicide. Mean it.
Need for attention – Older kids seek attention from parents, teachers and peers. Your attention is a hugely powerful tool to guide or modify your child’s behavior. Pay attention to their personhood; when they talk of their friends, or hobbies, really listen. Also pay attention to their behaviours that you like – caring, sharing, leadership, hard-work. Show you noticed them working smartly or hard. Don’t pay attention to behaviours you don’t like. Don’t become the parent who only talks to the child when they misbehave, scolding them for slamming the door, leaving the room dirty or being on the phone too much. The more you pay attention to these things, the more the child repeats it. Scolding is still attention, something they desire. Also, don’t pay too much attention to results. Remember, actions like studying smart, long and hard is within your child’s control, marks are not. Whether they win or lose, let your praise be about the child’s actions.
Desire to escape – Some kids experience a lot of pressure or problems. They may be disturbed or depressed. An easy option appears to be to escape all problems. Leaving home and suicide attempt are two ways kids try to escape from their reality. Games like Blue Whale give a way for the child to escape their real problems by focusing all their energies on overcoming the game’s challenges. To inoculate your child against this desire, show them you believe in their ability to rise up to their real challenges. A goal-ladder is a great tool to give your 8- 10 year old child. In a goal ladder, the child writes their goal on the top of a ladder. Each rung is then the step they need to achieve to reach from where they are, to their goal. Tools like this give a sense of mastery and control to the child. This naturally reduces their desire to escape from problems.
Ultimately, we want our kids to be safe and happy. When we tune in to their needs better, and give them ways of meeting their needs in healthy ways, we have a happy, action-oriented and well-adjusted child.
Top image via Unsplash